Each student has a different journey to and from UTSA, but for Andrea Ramos Fernandez ’18, that journey was truly unique. What started with a reluctant transfer, an uncertain academic future and a surprise switch in major, ended with a full scholarship to NYU’s Wagner School of Public Service.
Ramos Fernandez was originally a student at Texas State University. However, because of her financial situation, she ended up reluctantly transferring to UTSA. Her plan was to head to nursing school after graduation, and she had been accepted into several prestigious programs with scholarships.
Then, the 2016 election took place. Suddenly, Ramos Fernandez’s ambitions were taken from her as schools rescinded scholarships.
Ramos Fernandez was an undocumented student protected under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the program that came into question and uncertainty during the 2016 campaign.
“I was in a situation where I was very, very sad and really angry,” Ramos Fernandez said. “I was seeing what was happening in the country and hearing that my parents were criminals. I just felt so alone and so scared that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stay in nursing anymore.”
Ramos Fernandez was at a crossroads; her academic future was uncertain and her career path seemed like it wasn’t the right fit anymore.
“I hated everything that was happening,” she said. “But I had to pick myself up and say, so what can I do about it?”
And so, she began to research other options. Political Science was out, she explained, because she already knew the issues and theories. She wanted to address the issue and take action.
As she searched, Ramos Fernandez found a major in Public Administration. “I had never heard about that before,” she said. “I made the switch because I was in this situation that I just wanted so desperately to change.”
Ramos Fernandez fell in love with the program – and with UTSA. “I wished that I had gone to UTSA from the very beginning,” she said. “I feel like UTSA is my home now. Under the Public Administration program, I received the support that I probably would have never gotten anywhere else.”
Although she was happy she made the switch, Ramos Fernandez was still unsure of her future. Every day the news had something about DACA and undocumented immigrants. The Attorney General in Texas was leading the lawsuit against the DACA program. She lived with a constant fear of deportation.
“After my first class, Professor Gina Amatangelo said if any student needs any help, she was willing,” Fernandez recalled. “I took a gamble on that and decided to tell her that I was undocumented. She was one of the first people that I told.”
Ramos Fernandez credits that decision with most of her success that was to follow. “She pushed me to do all the opportunities that I did when I was at UTSA,” she says. “She was not only a mentor, but became a really good friend.”
“I feel like UTSA is my home now. Under the Public Administration program, I received the support that I probably would have never gotten anywhere else.”
That relationship continued to serve her after graduation as she stayed in touch with Amatangelo. “The first person that asked if I considered a graduate degree was Gina,” Ramos Fernandez said. “I’m a first-generation student with undocumented parents. I was the only one in my family with a bachelor’s degree.”
And so, she dismissed the idea – but it continued to hang in the back of her mind. She took a job with the Texas Legislature, which consumed most of her time. She watched one application cycle go by, and then another, still considering it but never taking the step to pursue it.
Finally, last fall, she sat down and took a look at the requirements. Amatangelo helped select schools with strong programs, and Ramos Fernandez picked two. “I decided if I’m going to apply to graduate school, then I’m going to reach.” She applied to UCLA and NYU.
As with her undergraduate studies, a lot was happening during this time. Her parents had lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic and she was paying for their mortgage.
“I had a lot of support, that even though a lot of things were happening on the background,” Ramos Fernandez said. “I was just hoping that I would get in, and whatever funding was possible I would make it work. I worked all throughout my undergraduate degree at UTSA. I figured I could work throughout my graduate level degree.”
And then, she received her first decision: a full scholarship to NYU. “I wasn’t expecting it,” Ramos Fernandez said. “To be honest, I still don’t understand how that happened.”
To those who know Ramos Fernandez, however, it’s not a surprise.
“When I met Andrea in 2017, she was hesitant to talk about her immigration status and concerned about whether she’d be able to complete her degree,” Amatangelo said. “Just a year later, elected officials in our community looked to her as an effective spokesperson & advocate for DACA and undocumented students. While a student at UTSA she responded to a range of media interviews regarding DACA, and traveled to Washington, D.C. several times to lobby Members of Congress considering immigration legislation.”
Before heading to NYU, Ramos Fernandez will continue working for the American Business Immigration Coalition – an opportunity she credits UTSA with. “I have been very fortunate to have worked with a lot of the big names on the advocacy spectrum,” she said. “A lot of it came from the advocacy I did at UTSA after the Dreamers Center came to fruition.”
She wants other students to know that the only way to affect change is to get involved. “The issues that are happening in our nation will not be addressed if other people do not speak up and put their hands in the game,” Ramos Fernandez said. “The public administration courses at UTSA not only gave me the foundation to be able to work on the issues that I cared about, but also gave me opportunities. UTSA gives a lot of room for students to be involved.”
Looking back on her time at UTSA, Ramos Fernandez reacts with a mixture of heartache and joy. “It was probably some of the worst times in my life, but I’m very thankful for that time period,” she said. “It taught me that I was very strong, that I was able to do what I could set my heart to. For the first time in my life, I felt like my dreams were actually possible.”